Immigrant graduates in the US, including Indians, are more likely to be better educated and earn more compared to their American-born peers with college degrees, says a study by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute (MPI).
College-educated immigrants in the US are more likely to have advanced degrees and major in STEM and health fields than their US-born peers with college degrees.
The study found that 60 per cent of immigrant college graduates have at least a master’s degree versus 53 per cent of the college-educated US-born.
Fifty-one per cent of immigrants’ degrees are concentrated in the high-demand STEM and health fields versus a mere 36 per cent in those held by the US-born.
Furthermore, two-thirds of immigrants in the PIAAC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) sample earned their highest degree in the US.
It is precisely due to this reason that the average monthly earnings of immigrant college graduates exceed those of US-born graduates.
Full-time, college-educated immigrant workers have higher monthly earnings of $7,140 compared to their US-born counterparts at $6,500.
However, despite these largely favourable outcomes, one-fifth of immigrant college graduates see their skills underutilised, said the study targeting the 25-65 age group.
MPI estimated that about two million college-educated immigrants in the US worked in jobs that required no more than a high school degree or were unemployed as of 2019.
This outcome is a result of lower levels of English proficiency, licensing barriers, limited social and professional networks, and other issues.
The study added that immigrants’ literacy, numeracy, and digital skills are also likely to play a role.
Among key findings in The Skills and Economic Outcomes of Immigrant and U.S.-Born College Graduates:
- Sixty percent of immigrant college graduates have at least a master’s degree versus 53 percent of the U.S. born with college degrees. Two-thirds of immigrants in the PIAAC sample earned their highest degree in the United States.
- Immigrants’ degrees are more heavily concentrated in the high-demand STEM and health fields than those held by the U.S. born: 51 percent versus 36 percent.
- Immigrant graduates who work full time reported having higher monthly earnings than U.S.-born workers — $7,140 versus $6,500 — in large part because immigrants are more likely to have graduate-level degrees and to have majored in STEM or other in-demand fields. Further, immigrants’ self-reported job quality — their autonomy at work, managerial responsibilities and job satisfaction — roughly equal those of the U.S. born.
- Despite these outcomes, the literacy, numeracy and digital skills of immigrant college graduates lag those of the U.S. born.PIAAC’s skill assessment was conducted only in English.
- Lower skills helps explain one trend: Immigrants’ higher educational levels do not always translate into occupational gains. For instance, immigrants with low literacy levels were four times more likely than those with high scores (45 percent versus 11 percent) to experience “brain waste,” that is, to see their skills underutilized.
MPI has previously estimated that about 2 million college-educated immigrants in the United States worked in jobs that require no more than a high school degree or were unemployed as of 2019 — the result of lower levels of English proficiency, licensing barriers, limited social and professional networks and other challenges.
The analysis of PIAAC data found that 20 percent of immigrant college graduates were underemployed — a share equal to that of the U.S. born. With the U.S. labor market facing persistent shortages, including in high- and middle-skilled jobs, addressing the skill underutilization for U.S. adults, regardless of nativity, should be an important consideration for policymakers and other stakeholders.
“As the number of U.S. adults with college degrees continues to grow, in part due to immigration, removing licensing barriers and helping underutilized workers acquire skills and transition into jobs where they can fully apply them represents an important strategic investment in building the nation’s talent base and competing internationally,” Batalova and Fix conclude.
“And with more than two-thirds of immigrant graduates identifying as racial and ethnic minorities, supporting their economic integration is also an important dimension of advancing racial equity.”
The PIAAC survey represents the largest direct assessment of working-age adults’ literacy, numeracy and digital skills undertaken to date, and permits detailed analysis of the U.S. population, including the foreign born, in ways not available with U.S. surveys, which rely on self-reporting of English proficiency and other aptitudes.